The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China recently announced its plans to scrap the two-term limit on its presidency, which would mean that Chinese president Xi Jinping can continue in power after the end of his second term in 2022. This news was largely frowned upon by the Western world and is often explained as a step toward an increasingly totalitarian state. But is this a bad development? Or are these plans understandable from a Chinese perspective?
From a Western democratic point of view, it is almost self-evident that there is a recurring and constant shift of power and that the voter can exercise his or her democratic vote during such shifts. Yet in Chinese culture, there typically exists a strong government that sets a course for the country. As such, the Communist Party has held the reigns tightly for the past decades.
This approach, combined with capitalist free market principles of Western societies, has led to an incredible increase in wealth for many Chinese households over the past decade. Millions of Chinese citizens seized the opportunity to escape from poverty and build a better life. Not without success, because for many producers of consumer goods, China has already grown into the largest and most important market in the world.
The ambition of the Chinese government stretches beyond domestic politics. Over the past couple of years, it seems that Chinese president Xi Jinping also increasingly takes the lead on the international stage. Four years ago, he announced an ambitious plan to revive old trade routes to Europe and the Middle-East, a project which could count on the support of dozens of other countries.
Several allies of the United States joined the newly founded Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as well, which will enable the financing of a variety of projects related to the new Silk Road. The U.S. government, under the Obama administration, was surprisingly reluctant to join the Chinese initiative and pinned its hopes on the success of free trade agreements such as the TTP, TTIP and CETA.
Last year, Xi Jinping took another step, when he publicly came out saying that China had to take the lead in shaping a “new world order” and guaranteeing international security, precisely the domain on which the United States had left its stamp over the past decades.
Hence, China has become a global power again that must be taken into consideration. Their power is now of even such proportions that the Pentagon is prioritizing keeping in check China and Russia over fighting terrorism. This already leads to tensions, which can be noticed in for example the aggressive rhetoric of the U.S. and the NATO against Russia and also the introduction of various import tariffs to prevent cheap Chinese products from being available on the American market.
My expectation is that the transition in the coming years of a unipolar to a multipolar world will be accompanied by increasing tensions in political, economic and military affairs. This phase of uncertainty calls for strong leaders, who could provide a certain degree of stability and who could talk with each other at the highest level. In this regard, it might perhaps even be better if the mightiest countries could set a steady course to which the rest of the world can conform.